Wednesday, November 30, 2011

4 Months, 3 Weeks, & 2 Days

Originally Written and Posted at on 5/14/09 w/ Additional Edits.

Written and directed by Cristian Mungiu, 4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile tells the story of two college students in 1987 Romanian in the final days of Nicolae Ceausescu era trying to arrange an abortion, which was illegal at the time. With the help of a doctor, they hope for things to go right but instead, the two women learn about the consequences and sacrifices they have to go through. A harrowing drama with some political insight about the times of Communist Romania, it's a film that is truly eerie about the dark world and how two women struggle to live in those harsh times. Starring Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Adi Carauleanu, and Luminita Gheorghiu. 4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile is a harrowing yet mesmerizing masterpiece from Cristian Mungiu.

Two young women are living in a dorm at a university in Bucharest as they're packing things for a trip. Otilia Mihartescu (Anamaria Marinca) is trying to get things for her roommate Gabriela "Gabita" Dragut (Laura Vasiliu). Otilia goes to various rooms in her dorm floor for things as she later leaves to meet with her boyfriend Adi (Alexandru Protocean). Adi asks Otilia to attend a family dinner to celebrate his mother's birthday as Otilia isn't sure as she's asking for some money. She reluctantly agrees though isn't sure when she's coming. Later that day, she goes to a hotel to get a room Gabita had made reservations but it didn't go through. After getting a room at another hotel and at an expensive rate, Otilia calls Gabita, who is feeling ill at the moment to meet a mysterious man at a rendezvous point.

The man is Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) who talks to Otilia about what to do as he's supposed to meet Gabita. Otilia revealed what has happened as Gabita had messed things up for the meeting. Later revealing that she's four months pregnant instead of three, Gabita is desperate for the abortion as Mr. Bebe makes some news about what he must do and such while both women are short on money. Bebe reveals the warning of an illegal abortion which means he could spend 10 years in jail while the two women would also be in trouble. Otilia decides to make Bebe an offer he couldn't refuse but as temporary payment. During the abortion, Bebe gives them a warning about what to do with the fetus. After his departure, Otilia decides to leave to attend dinner at Adi's as she is furious at Gabita for her lies.

At the dinner party, Otilia meets Adi's parents and some friends where she meets all of them but sits in silence. Worried about Gabita, she tells Adi privately about what's going on as she heard a phone call earlier as she wonders what is happening. After leaving the party early, she returns to the hotel as she ponders all that had just happened.

The film is essentially a thriller of sorts but not a conventional thriller with lots of chills and suspense. Instead, it all takes place on an entire day from the perspective of the person who is helping her friend have this abortion. Considering the political climate of the time where abortion was illegal, it shows the consequences of what would happen. Writer-director Cristian Mungiu creates a drama that is chilling though the suspense doesn't come until the second and third act. He sets it up without giving the audience an idea of what's going on until later. Instead, he follows Otilia in her journey to get some money, meet her boyfriend, and then have a rendezvous with Mr. Bebe. What transpires is a series of events in which Otilia learns about the lies that Gabita made just to get the abortion while listening to things Mr. Bebe had to say.

Mr. Bebe might seem like a villainous character but instead, he's a man that is just doing a duty but gives warnings about what could happen as well as some consequences if things go wrong. What they had to do for him as payment is something neither women would think would happen it's the harsh realities they have to face. For Otilia, it's a disillusioning moment for her as what Mr. Bebe says, there's a price to be paid. The price is that of the friendship of Otilia and Gabita, the latter of whom is naive, timid, and at times, dishonest. When Otilia later tells her boyfriend Adi about what happened. He reveals his feelings for abortion as it puts a strain on their relationship forcing Otilia to do things that would change her life, even in the decision about what happens in this event.

Mungiu's direction is entrancing with its mostly hand-held work and still shots to convey the sense of drama and suspense that is unfolding. The hand-held work is slightly shaky in scenes to follow Otilia in her dorm and such while in some scenes, it's very still. There's shots that are long but it's always because Mungiu is being very attentive to what is happening. Even in a conversation piece as it's focused on a character while the voice of another is heard. By the third act, there's a moment of suspense where something could go wrong as the camera continues to follow Otilia in this traumatic journey with a scene that is too disgusting to watch as Mungiu doesn't shy away on what is shown. The reaction of course, would be of disgust but works for its drama. The overall work of what Mungiu does is truly superb in both the writing, direction, and presentation of the story.

Cinematographer Oleg Mutu brings a tinted yet saturated look to the film in many of the bright, day-time exterior and interior scenes. Even in some darkly-lit scenes, there's an intimacy to the camera but also something that is rough but not grainy. There's even scenes with very little light, it doesn't have the kind of Hollywood polish or over-lit cinematography style as Mutu's work is phenomenal. Editor Dana Bunescu does great work in the use of jump-cuts and smooth transitions to give the film a rhythmic feel in the editing. Even as she lets the scene play out and knowing when not to cut except for some kind of emotional, dramatic impact as the editing is done superbly. Production designer Mihaela Poenaru does a fantastic job with the look of the hotel room that the girls stay in which is dark and drab along with the lobby outside of the room. Even the look of the home of Adi's parents have a richness that is sharp contrast to the harsh world that everyone else is going through.

Costume designer Dana Istrate does fantastic work with the clothing choices for the cast from the green and blue shirts that Otilia wears to the simple, brown-like clothing that Gabita wears to contrast their personalities and such. Also serving as a sound editor, Dana Bunescu along with Constantin Fleancu and recordist Cristian Tarnovetchi, the sound is phenomenal, notably in the third act to create a level of chilling sounds and such for its suspense. The film has no music score throughout the film except a song at the final credits by a Romanian singer.

The casting by Catalin Dordea is superb with its array of actors including Adi Carauleanu as Adi's father and from Moartea domnului Lazarescu, Luminita Gheorghiu as Adi's mother. In the role of Adi, Alexandru Potocean is excellent as Otilia's boyfriend who is concerned about Otilia's behavior only to realize what is happening though his feelings towards abortion seems to get the best of him. Vlad Ivanov is great as Mr. Bebe, the abortionist who seems mean only to warn the two women about the implication of what could happen as well as how much trouble both could be. Ivanov has this eerie presence where he could do things to them that are troubling as it's a great role from the actor.

Laura Vasiliu is very good as Gabita, the young woman seeking an abortion to naively believe that to lie about things would go smoothly. Instead, her lies, timid behavior, and lack of intelligence gets her into some serious trouble with Otilia and Mr. Bebe as it's a harrowing performance from Vasiliu. The film's best performance easily goes to Anamaria Marinca as Otilia. Marinca's performance is truly entrancing as we see her character handle everything while struggling with all that is going on with her and Gabita. It's definitely one of the best performances that was unjustly overlooked in many critics circle as well as a breakthrough for the Romanian actress.

4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile is a harrowing yet provocative masterpiece from Cristian Mungiu featuring a superb, powerful performance from Anamaria Marinca. Audiences new to the Romanian New Wave will see this film as the best place to start. It's a film that is truly an unconventional thriller that pushes the edge of its constraints while adding a dose of realism and political surroundings to the story. It's not an easy film to watch and certainly one that will challenge anyone's beliefs about the idea of abortion. In the end, 4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile is a mesmerizing yet eerie masterpiece from Cristian Mungiu.

(C) thevoid99 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Me and You and Everyone We Know

Originally Written and Posted at on 2/3/06 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Written, directed, and starring Miranda July, Me and You and Everyone We Know is a multi-layered ensemble drama about lonely people trying to connect with other people. One story involves a performance artist/cab driver who falls for a divorced man along with stories about a 14-year old kid getting the attention of young girls while a 7-year old boy meets someone on the Internet. Also starring John Hawkes, Miles Thompson, Brandon Ratcliff, and Carlie Westerman. Me and You and Everyone We Know is a delightful, idiosyncratic debut from the multi-talented Miranda July.

Shoe salesman Richard Swersey (John Hawkes) has just gotten divorced from his wife Pam (JoNell Kennedy) as he gets shared custody of their sons in 14-year old Peter (Miles Thompson) and Robby (Brandon Ratcliff). While Richard struggles to connect with his sons as they've become more interested in chatting online on the Internet. A struggling performance artist named Christine Jeperson (Miranda July) works part-time as a cab driver for the elderly as she helps out an old man named Michael (Hector Elias). With Christine buying shoes for Michael at the mall, she meets Richard who was working as she falls for him. Richard's co-worker Andrew (Brad William Henke) finds himself being tempted by two young teenage girls in Heather (Natasha Slayton) and Rebecca (Najarra Townsend) over their interest in sex.

Peter and Robby's online chatting has them also interested in sex where Robby's strange idea in chatting with a mysterious person gets more intriguing. Particularly as Peter becomes an interest towards Heather and Rebecca in their discovery for sex as they get him involved for help where it ends up being awkward for all of them. Peter meanwhile, becomes more interested towards a younger girl named Sylvie (Carlie Westerman) who saw Peter with the two other girls. When Christine decides to take a tape to an art gallery director in Nancy Herrington (Tracy Wright), Christine later bumps into Richard as she tries to connect with him. Richard however is still dealing with his divorce while Peter becomes ill while Christine ponders about her own loneliness.

Now the idea of connecting various characters in a number of stories is a style that is old that is made famously by the seminal works of Robert Altman. What Miranda July does is take that ensemble, multi-story world into a new level where it's fresh and original. Notably for its awkwardness of how unusual people are trying to connect with one another. Especially in the discoveries of sex and things where the young kids are trying to figure it out, including their own idea about the future. Even July's character Christine is trying to connect with not just on her own eccentricity but also through her art where it reveals her strange personality but also an artist who has something to say. This approach truly creates not just something that is very original but unique in the themes its conveying about loneliness.

July's script is filled with natural stories where the connections between character doesn't feel contrived and the situations are in are felt more naturally in its humor and dramatic context. Particularly how the kids try to discover the strange world of sex, even in its most perverse to the point that all the characters involved in that situation are just weird and unsure. July's fascinating screenplay is helped even more by her wondrous direction where she observes all the characters and their situations even as they attempt to try connect with one another. July's camera often focuses on not just the characters but the objects and things around them, especially in their own suburban environment where everyone feels lonely with very few people to talk to. What July creates is a debut feature that is filled with wonderful imagery and moments that speaks true to her characters and the lonely world they live in.

Helping July in her vision is cinematographer Chuy Chavez whose colorful photography helps with July's eccentric vision with shades of blue for evening sequences while all sorts of colors come out in every way to convey the feelings of the characters. Production designer Aran Mann and art director John Wyatt also help out July in her strange vision with the design of not just Richard's small, shabby apartment but the objects from Sylvie's hope chest and the museum things that includes some of July's own material. The costumes of Christine Wittenborn also reveal the strange, quirky personality of the characters involved, including some of July's own clothing which are filled with strange shirts and decaying shoes. Editors Andrew Dickler and Charles Ireland do wonderful job with the film's strange rhythm in its 92-minute running time with quirky cuts and solid editing that helps the film convey its own sense of style, especially in its presentation to convey what those characters are feeling.

The film's music is filled with strange, quirky score treatment by Michael Andrews along with original music from Ryeland Allison which helps conveys the loneliness and odd behaviors of the characters. The rest of the music is filled with cuts by Spiritualized, Cody ChesnuTT, and Virginia Astley where all the music is film creates a wonderful, poignant soundtrack.

Finally, we have the film's wonderful, ensemble cast that includes some nice, small performances from Ellen Greer as Michael's ailing wife, JoNell Kennedy, Colette Kilroy as Sylvie's mom, and Amy French as Nancy's assistant. In the role of the two underage girls discovering sex, Natasha Slayton and Najarra Townsend are excellent in their performances as naive, Lolita-like girls who get into more than they bargain for in their discovering of sex. Carlie Westerman is even better as a younger girl who not only gets her first glimpse of sex but is more innocent in her dream to have a family while holding items she hope would be useful for her own future. Tracy Wright is also excellent in the role of the museum director who is really troubled in finding something that would stand out for her museum while dealing with her own loneliness. Brad William Henke brings humor to a troubling performance as Richard's co-worker who is attracted to young girls but is aware of that what he's doing is wrong as he tries to deal with his perverse ideas.

Hector Elias is also excellent in the role of Michael, an old man who is about to mourn the upcoming passing of his wife while helping Christine with her project. Miles Thompson and Brandon Ratcliff give the best performances of the young cast as two young boys growing into a world where they discover sex with Thompson giving the more mature performance as a boy being confused. Ratcliff meanwhile, plays the more innocent role as his innocent suggestion leads to immense amounts of confusion as the boy discovers the world of sex. John Hawkes is extraordinarily amazing in his role as Richard who is desperate to try and connect with his own sons while dealing with the awkwardness of Christine as he and July have wonderful, natural chemistry as Hawkes delivers an amazing performance. Finally, there's Miranda July in a wonderful performance as Christine whose emotional struggle to connect with her art and personality is very troubling as July sells every moment of failure and heartbreak in a wonderfully, sympathetic performance.

The 2005 MGM Region 1 DVD shows the film in its 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen format along with its 5.1 Dolby Digital Sound for English. The special features though are minimal since they show several film trailers and previews for other movies. The only special feature for the film is shown are six deleted scenes. Three of them involve Robby's innocent yet perverse idea of sex. Another is an alternate version of Peter's meeting with Sylvie at school and two more scenes involves Sylvie discovering a girl she knows working as a model. While the scenes are nice to see, it's understandable why they got cut and if they were kept in the film, it would disrupt its rhythm. The DVD overall is nice but hopefully in the future, more features especially from July's own input would be revealed.

Me and You and Everyone We Know is a mesmerizing debut film from Miranda July. Featuring a great supporting performance from John Hawkes, it's a film that is truly unique and original with lots of great visual touches and an endearing theme about human contact. While a lot of its eccentric ideas and July's approach to the story telling might be twee to some viewers. There is something that is still unlike anything out there as it really shows something new that a lot of people haven't seen. In the end, Me and You and Everyone We Know is an enchanting debut film from Miranda July.

Miranda July Films: The Future - Kajillionaire

© thevoid99 2011

Mon Oncle Antoine

Originally Written and Posted at on 5/20/09 w/ Additional Edits.

Directed by Claude Jutra with a script co-written with Clement Perron, Mon Oncle Antoine (My Uncle Antoine) tells the story of a young boy coming of age in 1940s Quebec during an asbestos strike at a mining town. Set during the Christmas holiday, the film follows the perspective of the boy dealing with changes in his world as well as the people in his family. Considered to be the greatest film to come from Canada, it's a film that examines changing times and social changes for the province of Quebec. Starring Jacques Gagnon, Jean Duceppe, Olivette Thibault, Lionel Villeneuve, and Claude Jutra. Mon Oncle Antoine is a mesmerizing yet enchanting film from Claude Jutra.

It's the 1940s during an asbestos strike in a small salt mining town when a man named Jos Poulin (Lionel Villeneuve) is fed up with dealing with English Canadians as he quits his job. Returning to his family in his isolated home, he decides to take a job cutting trees in the north only to return during the Christmas holidays. Meanwhile at a nearby small town, a young 14-year old boy named Benoit (Jacques Gagnon) is working as an altar boy holding a funeral for an old man (Roger Garand). Being the undertaker is his uncle Antoine (Jean Duceppe) who is helped by his assistant Fernand (Claude Jutra) as Antoine is revered by the town for his generosity and ability to help people. At the same time he raises Benoit with his wife Cecile (Olivette Thibault) along with a young girl named Carmen (Lyne Champagne) whom Benoit is starting to fall for as they all work at Antoine's general store.

It's now the Christmas holiday season as everyone is making decorations at the general store. With Fernand making advances towards Cecile, he tries to do it under Antoine's nose but Antoine keeps popping up while Benoit is noticing that Carmen is showing feelings towards him as well. With people showing up at the store, there's moments of celebration when a couple (Lise and Michel Talbot) are announced to be married. Also showing up in style is the beautiful, posh Alexandrine (Monique Mercure) whom Antoine and his friend Maurice (Dominique Joly) have a thing for where they peep in a private room to see her topless. Meanwhile, Poulin's eldest son Marcel (Mario Dubuc) has become ill with Mrs. Poulin (Helene Loiselle) is watching over him. Then comes a call from Mrs. Poulin where Fernand tells Antoine that something has gone wrong. With Benoit going to the Poulin with Antoine, he faces some life changing moments along with the true personality of his uncle and the family he's surrounded by.

The film is essentially a coming of age story from the mind of a young boy as he is edging into his teens, discovering about love, naked breasts, and all sorts of things. At the same time, he is starting to see things about his own family and the people around him that he didn't want to know about. The new realities he's facing as well as the troubles that concerns another family because a man has to find work without compromise to provide for his family really starts to shape the mind of a boy in the span of this small period of time. The film's writers in director Claude Jutra and co-screenwriter Clement Perron does create a tale that is universal though its approach to the storytelling is unconventional. There's scenes where there's no dialogue but action while at the same time, it's unconventional approach in terms of lack of dialogue does lag the pacing a bit in some respects. Still, its lack of conventions in the storytelling is what makes the story so compelling.

Jutra's direction is truly mesmerizing with the use of zoom close-ups, hand-held camera shots, and striking compositions as it's all shot on location in the small towns of Quebec. The way Jutra shoots the exterior scenes to the exuberance of the small town when they're in the general store, there's something quaint about what is happening as all of these people seem to know each other. At the same time, the compositions Jutra creates from the long exterior shots of the snowy small towns and the travel that Benoit and Antoine had to go through to the Poulins. Even the close-ups that zooms into people's faces are enchanting in what Jutra is presenting. Even as the beauty of the film is matched with the decaying feel of the mines that are nearby as Jutra creates a film that is truly evocative in its story and unconventional presentation.

Cinematographer Michel Brault does absolutely exquisite work with the film's cinematography from the earthy, low-color interiors of the general store and the Poulins' home/farm to the wonderful exterior of the daytime scenes in the snow. Even at night where it's a mixture of black and blue, there's something enchanting about Brault's cinematography where it's also a bit grainy to match the rough look of the Canadian mountains and mines. Brault's photography is really one of the film's highlights. Editing the film is Claude Jutra and Claire Boyer is excellent in its movement, transitions, and its stylish use of dissolves and fade-outs to structure the story despite its lack of conventional plot.

The film's art direction by set decorators Denis Boucher and Lawrence O'Brien do fantastic work in the look of 1940s small-town life with the decorating of the store with Christmas things as well as certain products to give it an old yet authentic feel. The sound work of Claude Hazanavicius and sound editors Arnold Gelbart and Jacques Jarry is great for the sound of the mines and the windy noises of the snow that is heard throughout for the film's third act. The music of Jean Cousineau is truly wonderful in its folky, plaintive feel to play up the film's light-hearted humor and drama as it's performed in such a subtle yet somber manner.

The cast is excellent with some small roles from Lise and Michel Talbot as the engaged couple, Rene Salvatore Catta as the vicar, Georges Alexander as the Big Boss who throw trinkets at the town instead of bonuses for is workers, Roger Garand as the deceased Euclid, and Jean Dubost as the English-speaking foreman whom all in the town despises. In the role of the Poulin children are Serge Evers, Robin Marcoux, and Alain Legendre as the son with Lise Brunelle as the daughter and Mario Dubuc as the ailing Marcel. In a small role as Carmen's father is Benoit Marcoux who is good as a man who only wants the money his daughter makes but doesn't get all of it because Antoine feels that Carmen deserves something for herself. Other memorable small roles include Dominique Joly as Benoit's friend Maurice and Monique Mercure as Alexandrine, the sexy woman who is the object of desire for all of them including the young Benoit.

In the role of Mrs. Poulin is Helene Loiselle who is very good as a woman dealing with her husband's crankiness while trying to seek help for her ailing son. Lionel Villeneuve is excellent as the cranky Jos Poulin, a man not wanting to deal with bosses while finding work on his own without compromise for his family. Lyne Champagne is really good as Carmen, the young girl who is starting to attain feelings for Benoit as she exudes a kind of innocence while finding a family in the likes of Antoine and Cecile. Claude Jutra is excellent as Fernand, a clerk who likes to flirt with Cecile while being helpful though his motives for Cecile would prove to be life-changing for Benoit. Olivette Thibault is great as Cecile, a vivacious woman who lives to make people happy but also proves to be a secretive person as well.

Jean Duceppe is superb as Antoine, the generous, helpful, and caring town figure who is both the town's undertaker and general store manager. Duceppe's loving, carefree personality shows a man filled with warmth as he is also fair to those who work for him and such. Yet, in the third act, we see someone who is also flawed with secrets of his own that would change his persona. Finally, there's Jacques Gagnon in a fantastic performance as Benoit, the young 14-year old kid who comes of age in one extraordinary day as he discovers the good and bad in life. Gagnon's lively yet observant performance shows the smile of a child but also the growing cynicism he would face as a man as it's done realistically and with such power from the young actor.

Mon Oncle Antoine is an exhilarating yet enchanting film from the late Claude Jutra. While it's not perfect due to a lack of conventional story and some pacing issues, it's definitely one of the most magical films to come out of Canada. While there have been better films from Canada from more revered auteurs like David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, and Guy Maddin. This film does deserve its prestige as it has a story that is truly universal as it's one of the best coming of age films ever made. In the end, Mon Oncle Antoine is a powerful yet lively film from Claude Jutra.

(C) thevoid99 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Week with Marilyn

Based on the novels The Prince, the Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn by Colin Clark, My Week with Marilyn is the story of a film assistant who spends a week with Marilyn Monroe during the production of the film The Prince and the Showgirl. Directed by Simon Curtis and screenplay by Adrian Hodges, the film explores one man’s infatuation with the iconic beauty as he sees her dealing with personal issues as well as trying to make a movie with the likes of Laurence Olivier. Starring Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe, the film also stars Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Julia Ormond, Emma Watson, Dougray Scott, Derek Jacobi, Toby Jones, Zoe Wanamaker, and Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike. My Week with Marilyn is a wonderful film about one man’s experience with one of the cinema’s most iconic stars.

It’s 1956 as Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is hoping for a job interview to work in a film production headed by Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). Colin knows Olivier through a party held by his rich parents as he gets the job as Olivier’s assistant as well as the third assistant director a new project Olivier is directing and starring in along with Dame Sybil Thorndike and Marilyn Monroe. With Monroe arriving with her third husband/playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) and her acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), excitement is in the air as Olivier and his wife Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) greet Monroe and Miller.

With Colin working on set as he meets a costume girl named Lucy (Emma Watson), Colin watches the production unfold where it eventually becomes a disaster due to Marilyn’s erratic behavior. While Colin’s job also has to fetch Marilyn and check up on her, he gets more than he bargains for when she takes an interest in him. Colin would end up spending a lot of his time with Marilyn as she gets to relax while he takes her to places. Eventually, Marilyn would manage to perform well though the time Colin would have with Marilyn wouldn’t last following an illness. With the production taking shape and wrapping, Colin reflects on the brief moment he had with Marilyn Monroe.

The film is about a young man’s time with Marilyn Monroe in the shape of one entire week where he would get to know the real Marilyn through all of her flaws and insecurities. While this young man would also go into deep of Marilyn’s life and why she was difficult to work with. Largely because she was a student of method acting as opposed to the more theatrical training that Laurence Olivier had. For Colin Clark, he is in the middle of watching something where times are changing as the old guards like Olivier, Vivien Leigh, and Sybil Thorndike are on their way out while Marilyn is to become the new thing.

While Adrian Hodges’ script is a bit uneven due to the differing narratives that surrounds the film about Olivier’s difficulty with Marilyn’s approach to acting as well as this young man’s infatuation with the iconic beauty. Still, they do manage to coexist as it’s told from the perspective of Colin Clark as he watches a film being made as he has to deal with all sorts of people including Marilyn’s producer Milton H. Greene (Dominic Cooper) who had his affair with Marilyn. While there’s a lot of people warning this young man not to get too close, Clark does get close only to realize that it will include trouble. For Clark, the week he spends with Monroe and getting to know her while watching how a film is made would provide an experience unlike anything that most people would give for. Though the story is really more of a dramatic interpretation of what really happened rather than the actual truth. Hodges does manage to create a story that is exciting about one man’s time with Marilyn Monroe.

Simon Curtis’ direction is quite straightforward yet it’s also very engaging as he opens the film with Clark watching Marilyn Monroe perform on screen as he is enamored by her. The rest of the film is very intriguing for how a film was made at the time while showing what Olivier is trying to deal with as well as Marilyn dealing with her own issues. Curtis manages to create a wonderful sense of intimacy for the way that film is made while going for a sense of style in scenes where Marilyn and Colin walk around the park all by themselves. Overall, Curtis manages to create a film that is entertaining and dramatic in this brief moment in the life of Marilyn Monroe.

Cinematographer Ben Smithard does an excellent job with the film‘s photography where he does some amazing work in recreating some of the film footage of The Prince and the Showgirl to complement the Technicolor photography of Jack Cardiff. For the rest of the film, the look is very stylish while having a gorgeous air to the scenes of Marilyn and Oliver walking around in the park as Smithard’s work is noteworthy. Editor Adam Recht does a nice job with the editing as there’s some playful rhythmic cuts to play up the energy of getting ready on set while the pacing of the film is very leisured so that the audience can have time to see what goes on.

Production designer Donal Woods, along with set decorator Judy Farr and art director Charmian Adams, does a brilliant job with the set pieces created such as the studio and staging for the film sets scene as well as opening dance number that is full of pizzaz and all of that good stuff. Costume designer Jill Taylor does a fantastic job with the costumes created such as the casual late 50s clothing that a lot of the cast wears including the lavish dresses that Marilyn wears for the film she‘s making. Sound editor Nick Lowe does a stellar job with the sound work such as the hollow intimacy of a film set to the sparse world of the house and places that Marilyn surrounds herself in.

The film’s score by Conrad Pope and Alexandre Desplat is wonderful with Pope providing some jazzy pieces for the film with Desplat providing a more piano-driven theme for some of dramatic moments of the film. Music supervisors Maggie Rodford and Dana Sano provide a terrific soundtrack filled with jazz music of the times including the songs that Marilyn Monroe sang in some of her films.

The casting by Deborah Aquila, Nina Gold, and Tricia Wood is great as it features notable small appearances from Philip Jackson as Marilyn’s chauffeur/caretaker, Toby Jones as a brash publicist, Richard Clifford as character actor Richard Wattis, Derek Jacobi as Colin’s godfather who gives Marilyn a tour of a castle, and Dougray Scott as Marilyn’s third husband in famed playwright Arthur Miller. Other noteworthy performances include Dominic Cooper as the slimy Milton H. Greene, Zoe Wanamaker as the very controlling but humorous Paula Strasberg, Julia Ormond as the legendary Vivien Leigh who is dealing with aging, and Emma Watson in a small but charming performance as the costume girl Lucy that Colin briefly dates.

Judi Dench is wonderful as Dame Sybil Thorndike whose kindness and generosity brings a sense of warmth that was needed while being very funny in the way she snipes at Olivier and giving support towards Marilyn. Kenneth Branagh is superb Sir Laurence Olivier as he deals with his own issues over the fact that he’s one his way out while being very charming in how he greets Marilyn while being frustrated over her behavior. Eddie Redmayne is excellent as Colin Clark, the young assistant who watches over Marilyn while being enamored by her as he becomes an unlikely companion of hers. Particularly as Redmayne gets to play the observer while his scenes with Michelle Williams are a joy to watch in the way he gets to be the guy she needed for a while.

Finally, there’s Michelle Williams in what is truly a radiant and mesmerizing performance as the iconic star Marilyn Monroe. While Williams doesn’t really have the body of Monroe as she had to employ a body double for nude scenes. Williams does manage to bring in a sparkling enthusiasm in playing the iconic figure with a great sense of charm and wit while managing to showcase the insecurities and anguish that she goes through in trying to win over her peers and dealing with her persona. It’s a towering performance for the young actress in filling the shoes of someone as big as Marilyn Monroe. Yet, Michelle Williams manages to bring her back to life and reminding everyone that there was a whole lot more to Monroe than being some iconic sex symbol.

My Week with Marilyn is stellar and enchanting film from Simon Curtis featuring a spellbinding performance from Michelle Williams. Featuring a wonderful supporting cast that includes Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Julia Ormond, and Emma Watson. The film is an intriguing look into a brief period of Marilyn Monroe’s life from the perspective of a young man who got to hang out with her for a week. Notably as it brings insight into the troubled production of The Prince & the Showgirl which will probably have more people see this film that Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier tried to create. In the end, My Week with Marilyn is a dazzling film from Simon Curtis.

© thevoid99 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Skin I Live In

Based on the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet, La Piel que Habito (The Skin I Live In) is the story about a renowned plastic surgeon who is obsessed with trying to create skin that would’ve saved his wife. After kidnapping a young woman for his experiment, the doctor’s obsession becomes more troubling as those close to him wonder how far he will go. Directed by Pedro Almodovar and co-written with brother/producer Augustin Almodovar, the film marks a reunion between Almodovar and Antonio Banderas after a 21-year break since their last collaboration for 1990’s !Atame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!). Also starring Almodovar regulars Marisa Paredes, Blanca Suarez, and Elena Anaya plus Roberto Alamo, Eduard Fernandez, and Jan Cornet. La Piel que Habito is a chilling yet mesmerizing film from Pedro Almodovar.

Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is a renowned plastic surgeon that is nearly finished with an experiment to create skin that he hopes will save people from burns and other things. With help from his longtime maid Marilla (Marisa Paredes), Ledgard has found a subject in the form of a woman named Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya) whom he had kidnapped years ago. With Ledgard getting closer to finish his skin experiment on Cruz, he remains haunted by the death of his wife Gal more than a decade ago while his daughter Norma (Blanca Suarez) had committed suicide six years earlier. While Vera tries to harm herself through the experiment, Robert has always found a way to fix the skin as his experiment is finally set to be finished.

While his colleagues like Fulgencio (Eduard Fernandez) and an institute president (Jose Luis Gomez) learn at what Robert did to finish the experiment. He goes into trouble over the things he used for the mutation as Fulgencio and the president believe that he’s violating the laws of science. While he’s away, Marilla gets an unexpected visit from his son Zeca (Robert Alamo) whom she hadn’t seen in a decade. Marilla reluctantly lets Zeca into her home as he’s hoping Robert could fix his face while he’s celebrating Carnival season. When he sees what Robert and Marilla are doing, he tries to cause trouble only for Robert to return and make things right.

When Marilla reveals a secret to Vera about Zeca and what happened to Robert’s wife. Vera begins to sympathize with Robert as he recalls the memories of his daughter’s mental illness and what drove her to kill herself. Notably as it involves a young man named Vicente (Jan Cornet) who had met her at party where an event lead to her mental breakdown. For Robert, he hopes that this experiment would give him the chance to do all the rights while Vera becomes haunted by the secrets that surrounds Robert and Marilla.

What happens when a man’s devotion to his wife after a horrific accident has him become obsessed in trying to find ways to save her? Well, for any doctor that wants to find a way to save someone they love. They would have to do things that would be unethical and immoral in their belief they can play God by saving lives. The film has a lot of similar elements to the 1960 George Franju film Eyes Without a Face which had a similar presence about a doctor who kidnaps young woman so he can repair the burned face of his daughter. What Pedro Almodovar does is take it much deeper than that for the motivations of what Robert Ledgard does. It’s also about finding some sort of peace with the loss he’s suffered in his life.

The screenplay that the Almodovar brothers create is very complex as it’s more than just about a doctor who would eventually fall for his subject. There’s a lot that goes on as it’s really about three people in the center of this story. Marilla is a longtime loyal servant who knew Robert as a child as her devotion to him is much bigger as she also knew his wife and daughter. While her feelings towards Vera aren’t very gracious due to the fact that she’s just a guinea pig of sorts. She eventually warms up to her following an incident involving her long-lost son Zeca. The script has a unique structure where the first act is about introducing the three main characters while the second act is about the completion of the experiment and Zeca’s visit.

Then comes this third act that really changes the course of the story into something much bigger as it involves the death of Norma, a young man named Vicente, and Vera in how they relate to this long experiment. The death of Norma would be the catalyst for what Robert wants to do. The script shifts into various genres such as thrillers, character studies, and melodrama as they all manage to be balanced in what Almodovar wants to do to tell the story.

Almodovar’s direction is very entrancing from the way he frames and composes the scenes to how he lets the drama play out. There’s a lot of what Almodovar does in terms of moving the camera or to just keep it still has him be engaged by things that is happening. Yet, he doesn’t sugarcoat things when it comes to nudity or violence. It’s all because there’s a woman that’s trying to harm herself to disrupt the experiments which forces the doctor to really go into deep to keep it going and see how he can improve things. By the time it reaches the third act, the film moves into elements of thriller and melodrama where it flashes back in time to see how Robert started this experiment. With its vibrant compositions that is shot looking down at a table to the way he frames multiple characters into a frame. Almodovar creates a truly harrowing yet engrossing drama that likes to play against the rules.

Cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine does a brilliant job with the colorful camera work from the eerie nighttime exteriors of the home and cities that the characters live in to the Ledgard home with lots of colorful sheets and objects to help complement its cold look. Editor Jose Salcedo does a fantastic job with the film’s editing as he maintains a stylistic flair filled with jump-cuts and dissolves to help the film move at a leisured pace while playing to the rhythms in the way Robert does his surgery.

Art director Anxton Gomez does a phenomenal job with the set pieces created such as Vera’s spacious room filled with yoga material, books, and drawings on the wall plus the posh objects and things in Ledgard’s home. Costume supervisor Paco Delgado does an excellent job with the costumes from the clothes that Robert and Marilla wear to the skin-like clothing Vera wears throughout while the tiger suit that Zeca wears is by fellow Almodovar collaborator Jean-Paul Gautier. Makeup designer Karmele Soler does a wonderful job with the make-up that is made for the film such as the mask that Vera wears during the early stages of the experiment to more drastic work in the film‘s second act.

Sound editor Pelayo Guttierrez does a superb job with the intimate sound work captured at the home to complement its hollow feel while some of the exterior locations are much broader to create a bit of suspense in the film. The film’s score by Alberto Iglesias is outstanding for its sweeping orchestral score that plays up the suspenseful and melodramatic films while utilizing low-key arrangements for strings and woodwinds for the somber moments of the film.

The cast assembled for the film is terrific as it features an array of terrific small performances that includes Jose Luis Gomez as a medical institute president, Barbara Lennie as a seamstress that Vera knew, Susi Sanchez as Vicente’s mother, Eduard Fernandez as Robert’s colleague Fulgencio, Blanca Suarez as Robert’s mentally-ill daughter Norma, Roberto Alamo as Marilla’s crazed son Zeca, and Jan Cortet as a mysterious young man named Vicente. Longtime Almodovar regular Marisa Paredes is excellent as Robert’s longtime maid Marilla who helps Robert with his work while trying to deal with her own secrets which she eventually tells Vera.

Elena Anaya is great as Vera, a young woman held captive for six years as she tries to deal with her own isolation and the experiments she has to endure while eventually understanding what Robert is trying to do. Finally, there’s Antonio Banderas in a chilling yet intoxicating performance as Robert Ledgard. Banderas brings a calm approach to his character in the way he does thing while being very sensitive in how he treats Vera as a patient despite some of his dark attributes. It’s definitely the best thing Banderas has done in quite some time while it is also a joy to see him work with Almodovar again after a 21-year layoff.

La Piel que Habito is an extraordinary film from Pedro Almodovar that features top-notch performances from Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, and Marisa Paredes. The film is definitely among one of Almodovar’s intriguing but also shocking films as he brings back some of the dangerous elements of his earlier work with the more refined tone of his later films. For fans of thrillers and suspense, it’s film that might not be easy to watch as it’s more about characters and motivations while the third act would definitely get them into a total state of shock. In the end, La Piel que Habito is a marvelous yet spellbinding film from Pedro Almodovar.

© thevoid99 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Written and directed by Woody Allen, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is an ensemble comedy about a couple’s long relationship falling apart while their daughter’s marriage is also going into trouble as she falls for another man. Meanwhile, their son-in-law becomes fascinated by an exotic beauty he sees. The film is Allen’s fourth feature shot on location in London as it explores relationships falling apart as it delves into different age groups about the problems of love. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Lucy Punch, Antonio Banderas, Anna Friel, Pauline Collins, Ewen Bremner, and Roger Ashton-Griffiths. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is light-hearted although very messy film from Woody Allen.

After 40 years of marriage, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) leaves Helena (Gemma Jones) for a life of feeling young as Helena turns to a fortune teller Cristal (Pauline Collins) for help. Their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) is going through financial struggles as she hopes to open an art gallery while her husband Roy (Josh Brolin) is having trouble trying to finish a novel having only achieved brief success with just one book. While Sally later gets a job working at an art gallery for a man named Greg (Antonio Banderas) whom she falls for while Roy starts to become entranced by a woman living across the street from him named Dia (Freida Pinto).

Alfie’s life is in an upswing where he marries a prostitute/actress named Charmaine (Lucy Punch) which revolts Sally as she helps introduce Greg to an artist friend named Iris (Anna Friel). Helena continues to seek advice from Cristal where she meets an occult bookseller named Jonathan (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) who is still mourning the loss of his wife. Roy’s frustrations over the lack of progress about his new book has him turning his attentions towards Dia as they become friends despite the fact that she’s engaged to be married. Sally’s infatuation with Greg has her realizing that something is going on as she and Roy start to fall apart due to the news over his new novel.

When Roy hears that his aspiring-novelist friend Henry (Ewen Bremner) had been killed in a car accident, Roy does something out of desperation so that he can impress Dia. Meanwhile, Alfie’s marriage to Charmaine starts to unravel due to her youthfulness as he wonders what he’s been doing. When Sally decides to strike out on her own, she confessions to Greg her feelings towards him as she realize that it will be a lot harder for her to start over. Notably as Roy’s life starts to take a dark turn when he is given some startling news as everyone ponders how did everything go wrong.

The film is about two different couples who fall out of love as they all seek to find some sort of new companionship or answers that will help them. Eventually, these four people and the new partners they meet would all face difficulty in their lives as they all wonder if they’ve made the right decision. Woody Allen’s screenplay does create characters that are quite compelling but a lot of them don’t really have qualities that are redeeming. Alfie is a fool while Helena is easily manipulated by the guidance of a possible fraud. Roy is an idiot who leaves a great chance to be a doctor as he becomes desperate to write another so he can impress this young woman. Sally meanwhile, is a woman who falls for an art gallery guy only to become jealous when he’s with someone else that she knows.

Allen’s script has a lot of storylines that tries to mesh itself together but often comes up as really uneven. While the voiceover narration by Zac Orth isn’t distracting as he tries to clue in what the characters are going through and their situations. Yet, it’s not enough to help the story where it often feels unnecessary at times. Allen’s direction is engaging at times for the way he lets the light-comedic moments unfold as well as a few dramatic moments. Still, there’s moments where Allen doesn’t do enough to keep it interesting as some of the intimate shots feels awkward at times. Despite some very good moments and interesting concepts, Allen ends up creating a film that is really cluttered with too many stories and a lot of un-likeable characters.

Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond does a nice job with the cinematography to complement the colorful look of sunny London for its daytime scenes as a lot of it straightforward including the nightclub scenes where Alfie spends time with Charmaine. Editor Alisa Lepselter does a very good job with the editing to maintain something that has a bit of stylistic flairs while a lot of it just plays it straight. Production designer Jim Clay, along with set decorator John Bush and art director Dominic Masters, does an excellent job with the set pieces created such as the homes the characters live in that includes Alfie‘s posh apartment and the flat that Iris lives in filled with her paintings.

Costume designer Beatrix Aruna Pasztor does a lovely job with the costumes created from the racy clothing that Charmaine sports to the array of red clothes that Dia wears that attracts the more casual Roy. Sound mixer Peter Glossop does a fine job with the sound to capture the locations around London such as its park and crowded places the characters go to. Music soundtrack producer Stefan Karrer does a superb job with the soundtrack as it features an array of different musical styles ranging from jazz, opera, and a flamenco theme revolves around Roy’s attraction towards Dia.

The casting by Patricia Kerrigan DiCerto, Gail Stevens, and Juliet Taylor is wonderful as it features a great ensemble that includes appearances from Ewen Bremner as a writer friend of Roy, Christian McKay as one of Roy’s poker friends, Fenella Woolgar as a friend of Sally, Anupam Kher as Dia’s literary-loving father, and Neil Jackson as Dia’s fiancé Alan. Other notable small roles include Anna Friel as Sally’s artist friend Iris, Roger Ashton-Griffiths as Helena’s new spiritual beau Jonathan, and Pauline Collins in a very funny role as the fortune teller Cristal. Antonio Banderas is very good in a very low-key performance as the charming yet somber Greg while Freida Pinto is a joy to watch as the exotic Dia despite the fact that the script doesn’t give her a lot to do. Lucy Punch is very funny as the sexy and vivacious Charmaine who seems to enjoy the attention she gets from Alfie though she has a hard time dealing with his world and her needs.

Gemma Jones is quite fine as Helena for the way she always talks about her visits with Cristal and talking about her own issues as it’s a big part for Jones despite the fact that the character is sort of pathetic. Josh Brolin is excellent as Roy as he spouts all of the frustrations of being a failed writer while displaying a sensitivity to the scenes he has with Freida Pinto despite the fact that his character makes some bad decisions. Naomi Watts is wonderful as Sally, a woman with a crush on her boss as she ponders about her own future and the frustrations she has with the things happening around her. Finally, there’s Anthony Hopkins in a nice role as the vital Alfie where Hopkins gets to feel very youthful as well as be played by a fool as it’s very humorous performance from Hopkins.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is a troubled yet mediocre film from Woody Allen. Despite the talented cast he’s gotten to work with, it’s a film that has a lot of ideas but nothing to make it consistent along with characters people can root for. The film is among one of Allen’s worst features due to its willingness to try and do a lot but creates a film that is very confusing and uninspiring. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is an overall mess of a film from Woody Allen.

Woody Allen Films: What’s Up, Tiger Lily? - Take the Money & Run - Bananas - Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) - Sleeper - Love & Death - Annie Hall - Interiors - Manhattan - Stardust Memories - A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy - Zelig - Broadway Danny Rose - The Purple Rose of Cairo - Hannah & Her Sisters - Radio Days - September - Another Woman - New York Stories-Oedipus Wrecks - Crimes & Misdemeanors - Alice - Shadows & Fog - Husbands & Wives - Manhattan Murder Mystery - Don't Drink the Water - Bullets Over Broadway - Mighty Aphrodite - Everyone Says I Love You - Deconstructing Harry - Celebrity - Sweet & Lowdown - Small Time Crooks - The Curse of the Jade Scorpion - Hollywood Ending - Anything Else - Melinda & Melinda - Match Point - Scoop - Cassandra’s Dream - Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Whatever Works - Midnight in Paris - To Rome with Love - Blue Jasmine - Magic in the Moonlight - Irrational Man - (Cafe Society)

The Auteurs #24: Woody Allen: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 - Pt. 4

© thevoid99 2011

Four Lions

Directed by Chris Norris and written by Norris, Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain, and Simon Blackwell, Four Lions is a satirical film about four young Islamic men who become part of an Islamic terrorist group in Britain. During their attempts to become terrorists, the four men try to create chaos in Britain in hopes to become a huge threat. Starring Riz Ahmed, Kayvan Novak, Nigel Lindsay, Adeel Akhtar, Arsher Ali, Craig Parkinson, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Four Lions is a funny and captivating film from Chris Norris.

Omar (Riz Ahmed) is a security guard who wants to be part of Jihad terrorist group in Sheffield led by the White convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay) is also an ill-tempered local Islamic leader in Sheffield. Along with the dim-witted Waj (Kayvan Novak) and the willing Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), the four men try to figure out what to do as Omar gets a chance to go to Pakistan for Jihad training. With Waj joining him, the training doesn’t go well due to Waj’s incompetence and Omar accidentally firing a bazooka at a nearby terrorist camp. Upon their return home, Barry had already recruited a young man named Hassan (Arsher Ali) to the group as he suggests to blow up a Mosque so they can rile up angry Muslims to join their cause.

Omar isn’t sure about Barry’s plans as he reluctantly goes along with it until an idiotic neighbor (Julia Davis) dances with Hassan as she nearly compromises everything they do. With all of their tools needed to create explosives are nearly exposed, the five men decide to move everything where things go from bad to worse. Omar becomes more unsure as he tries to figure out what to do where he gets an idea to target the London Marathon. The men agree to go to London yet things become more complicated as it involves the police and a negotiator (Benedict Cumberbatch).

The film is essentially about four young men and a brash White Islamic convert all trying to create a terrorist plot in Britain in hopes that it would give rise to the Muslim cause against Western society. What happens to them is that a lot of things go wrong in their attempt as it involves a mix of men who really shouldn’t be terrorists as they’re either very stupid or just naïve to believe that they could make a difference. At the heart of the film is this young man who believes in the cause as he has a family and a nice job though he becomes more confused once things start to screw up even more.

The script succeeds in fleshing out characters and the situations they embark although there’s moments where a few scenes seem to meander at times due to the overflow of dialogue that is present. Yet, it’s the humor that makes the film very exciting as Chris Norris’ direction which is always very engaging with lots of wide shots of the Sheffield and London locations with Spain being the Pakistan location. The direction is very wild while mostly straightforward to emphasize what the men are doing as there’s intimate moments but also raucous moments. Particularly as it features moments where some parts of the film is shot on video cameras as if it’s a security camera or a night-vision camera where the police tries to uncover the plot. Overall, Norris creates a solid yet witty film about terrorism gone horribly wrong.

Cinematographer Lol Crawley does an excellent job with the film‘s photography from its colorful look for the Sheffield scenes to the grainy video camera work for the security and night-vision camera shots. Editor Billy Sneddon does a very good job with the editing as it’s mostly straightforward while having some wonderful rhythmic cuts for some of the funnier moments in the film. Production designer Dick Lunn, along with set decorator Duncan Wheeler and art director Julie Ann Horan, does some nice work on the set pieces such as the room where Barry creates his own video clips to express his plans to the world.

Costume designer Charlotte Walter does a fine job with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual with its mix of Muslim attire to complement the environment. Sound recordist Malcolm Hirst does a superb job with the sound to capture all of the chaos in the locations including its action scenes. Music supervisor Phil Canning does a brilliant job in creating a diverse soundtrack ranging from traditional Muslim music to modern Muslim music with its mix of hip-hop, classical, and rock to complement the modern world they live in.

The casting by Des Hamilton is wonderful as it features a great ensemble that includes Preeya Kalidas as Omar’s kindly wife, Julia Davis as dim-witted neighbor, Craig Parkinson as Omar’s good-hearted co-worker, and Benedict Cumberbatch in a very funny role as a negotiator who spouts very lewd comments about women’s body parts. Arsher Ali is very good as the hip-hop loving yet very naïve Hassan while Adeel Ahktar is excellent as the reluctant yet willing Faisal. Kayvan Novak is wonderful in a funny role as Waj who wants to impress the Jihad group despite not being very smart as he’s often confused about what to do. Nigel Lindsay is hilarious as the brash but unorganized leader Barry who tries to get things his way only to not fully realize what could be done. Finally, there’s Riz Ahmed in a superb performance as the determined yet conflicted Omar who wants to carry out his deed while being troubled by the countless screw-ups that is happening.

Four Lions is a funny and entertaining comedy from Chris Norris. While terrorism seems like an unlikely subject to be made fun of, Norris and his team is able to create something that is engaging as well as being satirical to what terrorists try to do. It’s also a very human film about what young Islamic men want to do in the belief that they’re fighting for something bigger though they endure countless screw-ups along the way. In the end, Four Lions is a stellar yet humorous film from Chris Norris.

© thevoid99 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Muppets/Small Fry

Based on Jim Henson’s puppet TV show, The Muppets is about a big fan who asks his brother and his brother’s girlfriend to save the Muppets theater from an oil businessman by reuniting the Muppets. Directed by James Bobin with a script written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, the film marks the return of the Muppets gang after a long-decade hiatus from feature films as Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, Animal, and many others make their long-awaited return. Also starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Rashida Jones, and Chris Cooper along with a slew of cameos. The Muppets is a fun and lively film that reminds everyone why the Muppets are so loveable.

Toy Story Toons: Small Fry

Written and directed by Angus MacLane, Small Fry is the second Toy Story short from Pixar about Buzz Lightyear being trapped at a fast-food restaurant where he meets a group of discarded toys while a mini-version of Buzz takes his place.

The short has a mini-Buzz toy trying to replace Buzz at a fast-food restaurant where he manages to annoy Woody and the gang. Buzz meanwhile, tries to get back home as he meets a group of toys who go into a meeting about feeling abandoned and not played at all. It’s another short where a lot of funny moments happen that involves the mini-Buzz (Teddy Newton) as his eagerness to be played with has him getting into some trouble with Woody, Jessie, and the rest of the gang.

The Muppets

For all of his life, Walter (the voice of Peter Linz) is a young Muppet that has a been of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and the gang as his older brother Gary (Jason Segel) and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) go on a trip to Los Angeles for their 10th anniversary. Gary invites Walter in hopes to go to Muppets studio where they find the place in ruins as Walter secretly enters Kermit’s office to find a meeting with oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) who plans to purchase the property for oil drilling. Walter decides to find the Muppets in hope to raise $10 million to save the studio as Gary and Mary join him where they meet Kermit. Though Kermit was unsure about reuniting with the old gang, he decides to reunite the old gang as he learns that Gonzo is a successful plumbing executive and Fozzie leading a Muppets tribute band with a group of cynical Muppets.

With Kermit finally getting nearly everyone on board, the only he couldn’t convince is Miss Piggy as she declines due to personal issues with Kermit. Kermit reluctantly replaces her with Miss Poogy, from Fozzie’s tribute band, as they’ve managed to convince a TV executive named Veronica (Rashida Jones) to have a telethon presented with a celebrity guest host. Though Kermit and the gang try to figure out how to present the show as Miss Piggy finally comes around to return for a one-time gig. Gary and Mary go through their own relationship problems while Walter becomes unsure what his talent is for the show. When Kermit learns that Richman isn’t just going to own than just the studio, problems emerge as everyone decides to get together and save the Muppets studio from the greedy Richman.

For anyone that has grown up with Muppets over the years, there’s always a lot that people gravitate towards to. Whether it’s Fonzie’s bad jokes, Animal’s crazy drumming, Gonzo’s stunts, Miss Piggy’s diva behavior, and the always reasonable yet silly Kermit. The Muppets has always been there for one thing only, to make people laugh. Since they’ve been away for quite some time in the age of computer-animated films and an array of silly gimmicks for family movies. The time is right for the Muppets to make their return as they once again return in great form doing what they do best.

Screenwriters Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller definitely create a story that people can enjoy though it’s obvious formulaic in what they wanted to do. Still, they’ve managed to keep things be lively and find some excuse to put a musical number or a montage into the story. At the heart of it is about one young Muppet fan trying to get the gang back together while finding himself becoming part of the gang. Yet, he has to realize that it’s been so many years since they’ve been seen while the Muppets themselves wonder if they still have something to offer. The script succeeds in being very funny and entertaining while giving the human characters more than just being stock characters while the Tex Richman character is a fun antagonist that is a parody of sorts of other villains.

James Bodin’s direction is truly whimsical in the way the film is presented as it isn’t just a tribute to the old Muppets TV show and the movies they’ve made. It’s also a resurrection of sorts in reminding audiences why they were so beloved. After years of lackluster projects that didn’t live up to the work that Jim Henson did during his life time, Bodin finally gets it by just keeping things simple and just let the Muppets have fun. Bodin manages to get a lot of wide shots for some of the musical numbers while keeping the camera going without any kind of fast-paced movements. At the heart of it all, it’s all about bringing people together and just having a good time in which Bodin does as he brings Jim Henson’s voice back in what the Muppets all about. Overall, James Bodin creates a truly exhilarating and charming film that makes the audience welcome the Muppets back with open arms.

Cinematographer Don Burgess does an excellent job with the cinematography that is colorful and vibrant for its daytime scene while maintaining a stylish intimacy for some of its interiors including the scenes at the Muppet theater. Editor James M. Thomas does a nice job with the editing as it’s mostly straightforward while creating a great montage of how the Muppets are all gathered for the reunion.

Production designer Steve Saklad, with set decorator Tracey A. Doyle and art director Andrew Max Cahn does a wonderful job with the set pieces created such as Kermit‘s mansion as well as Muppets studio and theater for the big production number. Costume designer Rahel Afiley does a very good job with the clothes that the human characters such as the matching suits that Gary and Walter wear along with the stylish dresses that Mary wears. Visual effects supervisor Janet Muswell does some fine work on a few visual effects scene needed such as Walter trying to break into Kermit‘s home. Sound designer Benjamin L. Cook and sound editors Kami Asgar and Sean McCormack do some fantastic work with the sound to capture the some of the sound present on location like Fozzie’s fart shoes.

The film’s score by Christophe Beck is brilliant for its playful and dramatic orchestral themes for the film to emphasize the varying mood of the film. Original songs by Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords provide a lot of the film’s musical moments such as the ballad Man or Muppet, Me Party, and the enjoyable Life’s a Happy Song while providing a soundtrack filled with tunes by Paul Simon, Andrew Bird, and Starship and covers of songs by Nirvana and Cee-Lo along with a new rendition of Rainbow Connection. The music provided in the film is truly the film’s major highlight in terms of technical field.

The casting by Marcia Ross is superb for the numerous cameos that appear in the film such as Alan Arkin, pop singer Selena Gomez, Jack Black, Whoopi Goldberg, Donald Glover as a TV executive, Ken Jeong as a TV game show host, Neil Patrick Harris, Judd Hirsch, James Carville, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt reprising her role from The Devil Wears Prada as Miss Piggy’s receptionist, Rico Rodriguez, Mickey Rooney, Kristen Schaal as an anger management moderator, Sarah Silverman, Jim Parsons, Zach Galifianakis, and Dave Grohl as Fozzie’s tribute band drummer. In other human roles, there’s Rashida Jones as a corporate TV executive who reluctantly let the Muppets put on their show while Chris Cooper is hilarious as oil tycoon Tex Richman as he gets to have a musical moment of his own.

Jason Segel and Amy Adams are a joy to watch as they each bring a wonderful enthusiasm to their roles as a couple eager to be together while helping the Muppets. Finally, there’s the Muppet performers who help play the varied roles of the Muppets, including Peter Linz who voices the role of a new Muppet in the determined fan Walter, as they do an outstanding job providing the voices that longtime fans love to hear from these characters.

The Muppets is an enjoyable and very funny film from James Bodin as he along with screenwriters Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel help bring the Muppets back. Longtime fans will no doubt be rejoiced by the return of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and the rest of the gang while proving they haven’t lost their touch. For new fans, it’s a chance to see why the Muppets are so beloved as they can get a chance to just enjoy themselves and laugh. In the end, The Muppets is an excellent film that brings new life to Jim Henson’s beloved creation.

The Muppets Films: (The Muppet Movie) - (The Great Muppet Caper) - (The Muppets Take Manhattan) - (Sesame Streets Present Follow That Bird) - (The Muppet Christmas Carol) - (Muppet Treasure Island) - (Muppets from Space) - (The Adventure of Elmo in Grouchland) - Muppets Most Wanted

© thevoid99 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hugo (2011 film)

Based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Hugo is the story of a young boy who lives secretly at a Parisian train station in the 1930s fixing clocks unbeknownst to anyone. When he meets a young girl, they uncover a secret from automaton that he and his late father try to repair which relates to filmmaker George Melies. Directed by Martin Scorsese and screenplay by John Logan, the film is a family adventure film where Scorsese also pays tribute to early 20th Century cinema. Starring Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law, Emily Mortimer, Frances de la Tour, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Ray Winstone, Richard Griffiths, and Ben Kingsley. Hugo is a dazzling film from Martin Scorsese.

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives alone at a train station in Paris where he fixes clocks throughout the station in secrecy. With his father (Jude Law) dead due to a fire at a museum and his uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) away, Hugo spends his time making sure the clocks work while stealing parts to fix an automaton that his father had found at the museum. Still, Hugo tries to evade the snoopy station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) while getting into trouble with a bitter toy shop owner name Mr. George (Ben Kinglsey) who notices that Hugo had been stealing as he also takes away his notebook. Hugo follows George to his home as he sees a young girl named Isabel (Chloe Grace Moretz) who notices Hugo outside as he asks for his notebook back.

Though Isabel was unable to retrieve the notebook, she befriends Hugo as the two go into an adventure where he introduces her to the movies. While Hugo’s talents to fix things did get George’s attention as he hires him briefly to fix things, Isabel’s interest in what Hugo is hiding as him showing her what he’s been doing. Since she has a key that is shaped like a heart, they managed to get the automaton working where they uncovered a big secret. Realizing that it has to do with a film that Hugo had seen years ago, they ask the help of a station librarian Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee) who tells them to go to the Parisian library about the history of film through a book. They meet its author Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg), a film historian who is a big fan of George Melies though he believes that Melies has died during the first World War.

With Isabel learning about George’s strange behavior and its reasons as she even asks her godmother Jeanne (Helen McCrory) about it. Yet, she and Hugo continue to try to uncover the mystery about Melies while Hugo tries to evade the station inspector. Particularly when Hugo receives news about his uncle as he tries to get the automaton to help uncover the secret about Melies.

While the film is about a young boy trying to repair an automaton to unveil a secret that he and his father wanted to unveil. It becomes much more once the film progresses into an adventure story about the boy and a girl where the secret they unveil involves the disappearance of George Melies. Throughout the story, there’s little subplots that involves the people that Hugo sees such as the longing attraction between a café owner (Frances de la Tour) and a newspaper seller (Richard Griffiths) and the station inspector’s infatuation with a flower girl (Emily Mortimer). It’s all part of the world that its titular character lives in as he is determined to finish his father’s work. What he would eventually do in relation to his own love for cinema is that he would take part into something much bigger.

John Logan’s screenplay is brilliant for the way he follows this young boy in his quest to uncover a secret that would unlock something that is very magical. Magic is part of the theme in the film as the mysterious George character is a man that seems to be lost and what he would find through Hugo would have him unravel as if he is trying to hide a secret. While the secret would be unveiled, the reasons for Melies’ disappearance would become more compelling as Hugo and Isabel would play into something where they could have the chance to resurrect Melies. Logan’s script definitely goes into the world of film and the idea of film preservation while creating a story that is truly thrilling and lively in what is expected for the adventure drama.

The direction of Martin Scorsese is truly divine in the way he chooses to present the film as more than just a tribute to the early days of cinema and film restoration. Instead, Scorsese creates a film where he can put his passion for cinema into a family adventure that is very engaging and exciting. From a wonderful tracking shot that follows Hugo in his world inside the station to the way he recreates 1930s Paris through visual effects and actual set pieces as it’s shot in a studio in London. Scorsese’s direction is very stylish from the way he shoots from above for conversation pieces to the way he allows the camera to be intimate and simple for conversation scenes.

Since it is an adventure film where Scorsese is able to create scenes that are very lively and thrilling. He’s also able to find a way to make the scenes involving Melies and his work into something that is more than just a love letter. The way he creates the world of Melies is by going into old-school cinema to see how they were made along with using footage of old movies ranging back from the first film made by the Lumiere Brothers back in 1895. There is a romantic element to the way Scorsese chooses to present these films and from the perspective of the two young kids. He recreates the idea of what it’s like to see a movie for the first time that is indescribable. What Scorsese does with this film is to prove that filmmaking is like magic as he creates what is a truly magical. Overall, Scorsese makes a film that is very accessible as well as being both entertaining and educational about cinema and its impact.

Cinematographer Robert Richardson does a glorious job with the film‘s colorful cinematography that is filled with a wonderful yet de-saturated look for some of the scenes involving Melies. The look for the rest of the film is quite straightforward with an element of style for the way the lights are set up as well as the dark look of the station deep inside where the look is more sparse and natural in its machine-like world. Longtime Scorsese collaborator in editor Thelma Schoonmaker does a brilliant job with the editing in adding some stylistic flairs to the cutting with rhythmic cuts to play up the energy as well as maintaining a leisured pace for the film. Schoonmaker also plays into the world of magic for utilizing the old films to help create wonderful montages of its history including a gorgeous montage that includes clips of the surviving work of George Melies.

Production designer Dante Ferretti and set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo do a spectacular job with the set pieces created such as the some of scenes in the train station along with a few exteriors for places in London as 1930s Paris. One of the key highlights in the art direction is the set pieces created for Melies film as it is shown in great detail for what they looked like and how they were made. Costume designer Sandy Powell does an excellent job with the costumes from the uniform that the station manager wears to the simple yet casual 1930s clothes that a lot of the cast wears including the stylish costumes made for the Melies scenes.

Visual effects supervisors Ben Grossman and Robert Legato do an amazing job with the visual effects for some of wide exteriors of 1930s Paris along with some old-school effects to recreate the special effects of Melies‘ films. Sound editor Phillip Stockton does a fantastic job with the sound from the chaos of the station to the way a film is played on a projector to emphasize its magic.

The film’s score by Howard Shore is wonderful with its lush, orchestral pieces to play up some of the adventurous moments of the film as well as creating some low-key work in the dramatic moments as it‘s a very lively and exciting score. Music supervisors Karen Elliot and Randall Poster do a terrific job with the soundtrack as it includes soothing Parisian accordion music to 1930s jazz as well as an original song performed by Zaz that plays up to period.

The casting by Ellen Lewis is phenomenal as the ensemble that is created truly plays up to that world that is created for the film. In small appearances, there’s memorable performances from Jude Law as Hugo’s father, Ray Winstone as Hugo’s alcoholic uncle, Shaun Aylward as a street kid caught by the inspector, director Martin Scorsese as a photographer, and Emil Lager as legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. In other small but memorable supporting roles, there’s Emily Mortimer as a very kind flower girl as well as Christopher Lee as an informative yet generous bookshop owner. Frances de La Tour and Richard Griffiths are wonderfully funny in their respective roles as a café owner and a newspaper seller who are both in love despite the café owner’s Dachshund.

Michael Stuhlbarg is excellent as film historian Rene Tabard who helps Hugo and Isabel uncover information about Melies. Helena McCrory is radiant as Isabel’s godmother Jeanne who tries to protect her husband while eventually revealing her own secret as she becomes much warmer as the film progresses. Ben Kingsley is great as George, a bitter toy shop owner who is very suspicious about Hugo while becoming more guarded as the film progresses. Sacha Baron Cohen is very funny as the station inspector who tries to capture Hugo and woo the flower girl as Cohen also displays his gift for physical comedy and awkwardness into a very charming performance.

Finally, there’s the duo of Chloe Grace Moretz and Asa Butterfield in their respective roles as Isabel and Hugo. Moretz brings a wonderful enthusiasm and energy to Isabel in the way she get things going. Butterfield is superb for the exemplifying the anguish and longing of a boy trying to finish something and uncover a secret. Moretz and Butterfield also have a chemistry that intoxicating in the way they work and interact together as they are the heart and soul of the film.

Hugo is an outstanding and delightful film from Martin Scorsese. Armed with a great ensemble cast of veterans and young actors along with great technical work by its crew. It’s a film that is truly ambitious in its size while displaying lots of heart in telling a story a boy that would help resurrect the life of a filmmaker. While the film may be a departure of sorts for Scorsese but his passion for film and his mastery at cinematic wizardry makes this film a joy to watch from start to finish. Even as it has enough power and love that would rank with some of his great films of the past. In the end, Hugo is a magnificent and imaginative film from Martin Scorsese.

Martin Scorsese Films: (Who’s That Knocking on My Door?) - (Boxcar Bertha) - (Mean Streets) - Italianamerican - Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore - Taxi Driver - New York, New York - American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince - (The Last Waltz) - Raging Bull - The King of Comedy - After Hours - The Color of Money - The Last Temptation of Christ - New York Stories-Life Lessons - Goodfellas - Cape Fear (1991 film) - The Age of Innocence - (Casino) - (Kundun) - (My Voyage to Italy) - Bringing Out the Dead - (The Blues: Feel Like Going Home) - Gangs of New York - (The Aviator) - No Direction Home - The Departed - Shine a Light - Shutter Island - George Harrison: Living in the Material World - The Wolf of Wall Street - (The Fifty Year Argument) - Silence (2016 film) - (The Irishman) - Killers of the Flower Moon - (An Afternoon with SCTV)

© thevoid99 2011